40 days and 40 nights will do it
None of the methods used to curb the Covid-19 pandemic should be news to New Zealanders, but it seems history may not have been our strongest subject in school.
Quarantine has been around since before the Dark Ages, devised when the Plague of Justinian hit the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 541AD.
People still had no scientific understanding of contagion but knew it had something to do with proximity. So officials in the Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa decided to keep arriving sailors in isolation until they could prove they weren’t sick.
At first, sailors remained on their ships for 30 days, which became known in Venetian law as a trentino. Later the Venetians increased the layoff to 40 days or a quarantino, the origin of the word quarantine and the start of its practice in the West.
The Great Plague of 1665 was one of the worst of the centuries-long outbreaks, killing 100,000 Londoners in just seven months. It was curtailed only when all public entertainment was banned and victims were shut into their homes to prevent the spread. Doctors wore masks because it was believed the plague was carried by smells in the air.
Smallpox was the first virus epidemic to be KO-ed by a vaccine. In the late 18th century, British doctor Edward Jenner discovered milkmaids infected with a milder virus called cowpox were immune to smallpox. He inoculated the gardener’s boy with cowpox, then exposed him to the smallpox virus with no ill effect.
Still, there are howls of protest about similar measures today. Quarantined travellers hop over and through fences; people flout lockdown and have parties; social media campaigns go viral about the dangers of drugs.
Over the past week, Air New Zealand has reduced inbound flights to ease pressure on quarantine facilities; quarantine fees were announced for New Zealanders returning temporarily, or who leave after the fees come into effect; and there are plans to fast-track approval for a Covid-19 vaccine.
All these measures were met with some sort of criticism. But there’s scant justification. This is how pandemics are quelled and has long been so.